By Yvor Winters
Reptilian green the wrinkled throat,
Green as a bough of yew the beard;
He bent his head, and so I smote;
Then for a thought my vision cleared.
The head dropped clean; he rose and walked;
He fixed his fingers in the hair;
The head was unabashed and talked;
I understood what I must dare.
His flesh, cut down, arose and grew.
He bade me wait the season’s round,
And then, when he had strength anew,
To meet him on his native ground.
The year declined; and in his keep
I passed in joy a thriving yule;
And whether waking or in sleep,
I lived in riot like a fool.
He beat the woods to bring me meat.
His lady, like a forest vine,
Grew in my arms; the growth was sweet;
And yet what thoughtless force was mine!
By practice and conviction formed,
With ancient stubbornness ingrained,
Although her body clung and swarmed,
My own identity remained.
Her beauty, lithe, unholy, pure,
Took shapes that I had never known;
And had I once been insecure,
Had grafted laurel in my bone.
And then, since I had kept the trust,
Had loved the lady, yet was true,
The knight withheld his giant thrust
And let me go with what I knew.
I left the green bark and the shade,
Where growth was rapid, thick, and still;
I found a road that men had made
And rested on a drying hill.
Yvor Winters, “Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight” from Collected Poems. Reprinted with the permission of Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio.
Source: The Collected Poems of Yvor Winters (Swallow Press, 1978)
Yvor Winters was born in Chicago, Illinois. He attended the University of Chicago, the University of Colorado (where he received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees), and Stanford University, where he earned a Ph.D. For two years he taught in coal-mining camp towns in New Mexico. He then taught at the University of Idaho and at Stanford University. He famously criticized the work of such writers as T.S. Eliot, arguing that art must act as “moral judgment.”
More Poems about Mythology & Folklore
It’s true: I almost never
smile, but that doesn’t mean
I’m not in love: my heart
is that black violin
played slowly. You know that
moment late in the solo
when the voice
is so pure you feel
the blood in it: the wound
and complete surrender. That’s
In this dream,
the paths cross
and cross again.
They are spelling
a real boy
out of repetition.
is the one
he must be
about this, but
he can’t feel
and the fisherman,
the fireman and
the ones on fire.